The first three episodes show the potential and the potential downfall of NBC’s “Boomtown.” Premise is simple — a crime as seen from various points of view — and the execution runs from the mundane to the brilliant. Pilot is a solid introduction into the show’s mainstays — a detective team, a deputy district attorney, two street cops and a reporter — while the second seg is a stellar twist on the truth not unlike David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive.” Third episode, however, lacks the crime-solving thrill of the initial seg and the smoke and mirrors of the second — a weakness that, one hopes, doesn’t portend a dumbed-down future. “Boomtown,” which has a debt to “Law & Order’s” nose-to-the-grindstone subtlety, could represent a bold move in episodic TV.
Detective Joel Stevens (Donnie Wahlberg) is partnered with “Fearless” Bobby Smith (Mykelti Williamson) and their pov’s often come first. In the debut they’re at the scene of a drive-by shooting of two girls, one a teenager, the other 6 years old. Deputy DA David McNorris (Neal McDonough) is on the scene quickly, and viewers are immediately alerted to his political savvy, the reporter, Andrea Little (Nina Garbiras) with whom he is having an affair, and the way he treats his wife (Kelly Rowan), which becomes more important as the series develops.
The cops at every crime scene are Ray Hechler (Gary Basaraba), a not-quite-dirty officer who enjoys bending the rules, and Tom Turcotte (Jason Gedrick), who turns a blind eye to his partner’s shenanigans. Ray is always looking for a shortcut, and Stevens is always stepping in to say no. Wahlberg, whose married life is jumbled by his wife’s suicide attempt, is a sedate presence; Williamson has the far more interesting character and, as we watch him with a hooker, flashing back to Desert Storm or tricking a suspect, he displays a far greater range than his partner.
Agreeable plot of the pilot, in which the crime is solved as easily as anything on any other cop show, is nothing compared to the Oct. 6 episode, “Possession.” It all appears quite straightforward — a love triangle gone awry. We meet the parties involved: the strip-teasing wife, overstressed big earner Wilson (Michael Dunn) and the pool guy. McNorris enters the investigation fresh from a rendezvous with Andrea.
After seeing a man address a woman as his wife and refer to their children, we return to see how it is that she isn’t his wife at all and they have no kids. Police figure they have the murderer cornered as a high-speed chase begins and the cops take their positions. Once the truck stops, though, they realize they have the wrong man. Rewind. It’s thoroughly involving, thanks to an impressive script and taut direction from Jon Avnet. (Sticklers armed with VCRs and TiVo undoubtedly will be able to find continuity problems in various episodes but as each view plays out, it all appears to be well done.)
Third episode, “The Squeeze,” gives McDonough some room to explore his character and his relationship with Andrea, who has thoroughly unrealistic responsibilities as a reporter for a major daily newspaper (along with an extraordinary apartment). McNorris is calculating and unlikable; getting to know him is a chore, and as long as he’s tough as stone and she tries to go toe-to-toe emotionally with him, it will remain “Boomtown’s” weakest angle.
Pilot uses some grainy treatment of the film to suggest memory vs. reality. It works and for no apparent reason, technique does not appear in other two episodes. The more they toy with things — characters, memory, plot — the better “Boomtown” will be.